571: Golden Age

571: Golden Age

571: Golden Age


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

When I was a kid, I loved falling asleep to the sound of the television in the living room. I liked it most because it meant someone was up watching the world so I didn’t have to. The trouble of the world was unfolding on the news and I could sleep through it. There was something both comforting and eerie about it. A world that never shuts off.

As I’ve aged, I find myself reaching for the remote to constantly push mute, or turn the TV off when the news gets too loud and terrible. I wonder, now, how it changes us, the images, the sounds, all that obsessive watching.

In today’s tender poem, we watch how the TV becomes almost another character in a multigenerational family. This poem explores how the events of the news, and the way we let the world into our homes can define not just who we are, but how we love.

Golden Age
by Chris Santiago

It used to embarrass me when my father talked
back to the TV.

Since my mother died he doesn’t talk anymore
but falls asleep enwombed

by voices: anchors,
procedurals, the invisible labor

of foley artists. My teacher
gasped when the Challenger

exploded on live TV. We had to wait
for the set to warm up

from a white hot pinprick of light.
It was so heavy the librarian warned

it could crush us. We watched as the column
of smoke split in two. Gasp

comes from Old Norse geispa
& shares a base with brag, bluster,

& babble. My second week of 
teaching Kindergarten a girl came in & 

said she saw a plane on TV
fly into a tower. By the end of the day

a colleague had rushed in & announced
that we’d started to bomb 

We are still bombing Afghanistan.

My father turns the volume up
to 77, 78. Each morning I have to crank

the volume back down.
His hearing loss could be described

as severe to profound. Still he must feel
bathed in those shifting backdrops,

those faces, profound from the Latin for before
the bottom. In order to remember

what to capitalize in McAuliffe
I think of how it contains the chemical

symbol for gold. The noise 
of the television soothes everyone

on the other side of the house; it tells us
someone is watching but not watching 

us, not the room where we can finally
make love undetected. I was taught to be silent

when praying. She was taught to pray
out loud, the way our sons

threw up their hands when we could solve
any unhappiness by lifting them: up

they would say. Up. The crew 
of the Challenger were likely conscious 

the whole way down. I want 
to lay like this a little longer,

before getting up, before
erasing all traces

of intimacy. Sometimes I go back out
& pour my father a finger of Jura

& he pretends he hasn’t been sleeping.
I’ve been doing this since I was a boy,

sneaking out after bedtime & over
my father’s shoulder watching the Cold

War unfold. The atomic 
number for gold is 79. God

he says when there’s a protest,
a wildfire, a shooting.

God as though
there were someone else in the room. 

"Golden Age" by Chris Santiago. Used by permission of the poet.